Groundbreaking Human Right Dialogue in Tashkent
March 10, 2008
WASHINGTON, DC: International participants in the Uzbek-American Forum "Law Enforcement, Human Rights and Global Security", held in Tashkent in the first week of March, recognized the substantial progress made by Uzbekistan in recent months in the area of human rights protection.
The Institute for New Democracies (IND) and Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) brought to Uzbekistan more than a dozen U.S. and European law enforcement, security, human rights and policy experts to participate in a groundbreaking dialogue with Uzbek counterparts. The U.S. delegation included former Congressman Lawrence DeNardis and U.S. Federal Circuit Judge John Tunheim. For the last three years, IND and EKU have been implementing the USAID-funded project Open Dialogue for Human Rights Reform in Uzbekistan.
In partnership with the Foundation for Regional Policy of Uzbekistan, IND and EKU hosted a week-long forum that included roundtables at several ministries and a conference on March 5 and 6 in Tashkent, entitled "Death Penalty Abolition and Transfer of Arrest Warrants to Courts – an Important Stage in Liberalizing the Judicial System."
The conference brought together high-level Uzbek experts and senior officials from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, the Office of the Prosecutor General, Supreme Court, Ombudsman, Parliament (Oliy Majlis), the Presidential administration and scholars of Uzbekistan's elite universities and institutes, as well guests from international organizations and diplomatic missions accredited in Uzbekistan.
"The forum marked a significant new development in U.S.-Uzbekistan cooperation on human rights after bilateral relations were stalled in the aftermath of the Andijan tragedy in May 2005," said Dr. Lawrence DeNardis, former U.S. Congressman and Chairman of the IND Board, who headed the delegation. "Our discussions focused on striking the right balance between protecting human rights and maintaining security in the age of terrorism. The Uzbek government clearly demonstrated a renewed political will for a more open and liberal approach in addressing these important issues."
The purpose of the forum was to share best practices and experiences between Uzbek and international experts and allow for peer-to-peer exchanges on strengthening human rights protection. A special focus was also placed on reviewing the latest reforms and legislative changes in the criminal code and investigation process to introduce the complete abolition of the death penalty and transfer the issuing of arrest warrants to the jurisdiction of courts. The changes became effective on January 1, 2008, based on Presidential decrees from August 2005.
"Our delegation was impressed by the steps undertaken by the Uzbek government to put into practice the decree on habeas corpus as a major instrument for protecting human rights," stated IND Executive Director Margarita Assenova.
"The abolition of the death penalty requires reforms in the prison system, which the Uzbek government has already started. It seems that government agencies are coordinating their efforts to change Uzbekistan's human rights record and implement comprehensive judicial reform. It is commendable that Tashkent has made this progress, given the fact that the country was in isolation during the last three years following the tragic events in Andijan." Outlining the accomplishments to date, the Deputy Minister of the Interior Alisher Sharafutdinov pointed out that the road to full liberalization of the judicial system is still long and Uzbekistan has a lot more work ahead. "We are determined to implement our reform program and make human rights a cornerstone for our country," – said Sharafutdinov.
In his keynote address U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland outlined U.S. views on recent positive trends regarding human rights in Uzbekistan: "Critics rightly point out that more progress is essential, but they sometimes fail to acknowledge the signs of progress that have been manifested. More importantly, they sometimes underestimate the role of engagement in achieving that progress." Ambassador Norland further pointed out that the consistent message from human rights activists and others in Uzbekistan is a desire to expand, not reduce, their contact with the outside world. "They have told me they believe the signs of progress we have seen lately are a result of such engagement. And I believe that deeper engagement can lead to more progress that is in our mutual interest."
Conference participants agreed with the major conclusions and recommendations regarding how the country could undertake further systemic reforms in the human rights area. They also proposed numerous ideas for cooperation between Uzbek and Western experts. After the conference, IND initiated discussions with several ministries on follow up projects to assist the country in addressing important issues in Uzbekistan's transition to democracy.
"Our persistence in continuing the human rights dialogue with Uzbek officials and human rights activists in the most difficult post-Andijan period is giving results now," said IND Country Director for Uzbekistan Mjusa Sever. "The latest human rights forum brought special honor to our organization, but also a special responsibility to all of us to further assist this most populous country in Central Asia in its efforts to develop into a stable and democratic country with internationally accepted standards of human rights protection, strongly sealed in its daily practices. We expect a lot of good work in the next few years and we are ready to undertake it."
Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Analysts believe that the country's stability and its successful transition to democracy are crucial for the security of the Central Asian region. Uzbekistan's rapidly growing population stands at almost 28 million, nearly 70 percent of which is below 35 years of age. Projections show that the country's population could reach 40 million by 2050.